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Connecting Your Digital Camcorder to Your Computer

One of the most common questions that in our forums is how to capture digital video to your computer from your digital camcorder. It really isn't as hard as you imagine. You just have to know a little bit about your hardware and how to use them. This article explains the different hardware connectivity options you have so you can pick the best option for you.

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Right now, the best quality you can get from your digital camcorder is to capture your digital video in DV mode using the Firewire (IEEE 1394) cable. The DV connector is on 99% of the digital camcorders on the market. It might be your only option. The good news is that it is also the best option, quality-wise.

DV format allows you to capture your digital video at the highest resolution that your digital camcorder provides. It is the same format that is used to store your digital video on miniDV and Digital8 tapes. So when you transfer the DV to your computer, there is absolutely no data loss. This characteristic is perfect if you want to archive your master copy on your computer. You can also transfer it back to your digital camcorder in DV format.

DV connectivity is also an industry standard. Connectivity is simple plug-and-play; you don't need to install special drivers nor special software to capture DV on most modern operating systems.

Most digital camcorders have a square-shaped four-pin Firewire connector (see photo below). So it's likely that your digital camcorder already supports DV transfer using Firewire.

The only question left is whether your computer supports Firewire. You can determine whether your computer supports Firewire by seeing if the 4-pin square-shaped Firewire connector or the 6-pin narrow, house-like Firewire connector (see photo below) exists. Usually notebook computers come with the 4-pin connector built-in, while the desktop computer has the 6-pin connector. Technically, the only difference between the 4-pin and the 6-pin connector is the power pins are not present on the 4-pin connector. The power pins aren't typically used anyway, because the computer and the camcorder have their own power sources.

Even if your computer doesn't have Firewire connectivity, it's easy and inexpensive to upgrade either a desktop computer or a notebook computer. For a desktop computer you can plug in an Firewire card to give you the support. On a notebook, you can get a PCMCIA or an ExpressCard Firewire card to do the same.

After having the Firewire hardware ready to go on your digital camcorder and your computer, all you have to do is connect the two with a Firewire cable and use a DV capturing software. You can find various Firewire cables and adapters on the market to connect between these two types of connectors.

Now, if you have all the Firewire hardware ready and want to capture DV, take a look at the "Capturing DV with Microsoft Windows Movie Maker" article.

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Universal Serial Bus

USB is the acronym for Universal Serial Bus and is what most people are familiar with. Recently, more and more digital camcorders are equipped with USB ports. The photo below shows an USB mini-B port next to the Firewire DV port.

USB is an excellent computer standard. However, it is not an industrial standard for the digital video industry. Therefore, the implementation of USB video transfer is not agreed upon between digital camcorder manufacturers. Each manufacturer is responsible to provide the driver and software to capture digital video from its digital camcorders via the USB port.

As of this writing, it is not possible to capture DV quality video using the USB connectivity. Digital camcorders that provides USB support generally transfers the digital video at a much lower quality than the master; generally half the DV resolution at MPEG-4 quality. Therefore, if your purpose is to send the video over e-mail or post it to your web site, videos captured through the USB port might be ok. But it's definitely not archival quality and shouldn't be your master copy.

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